Unmarry Me, page 20
‘Forgot about the cufflinks.’ He stands there with his inside-out shirt hanging off his arms, like a fabric chest-expander. He pulls and pulls. ‘Bloody hell!’
I’d watch for longer but I’m trying to be on my best behaviour since I lost my temper and left him for almost a week. It’s obvious he can’t make it without me. ‘Do you need some help?’
I come around to his side of the desk. I have experience with this, thanks to Mark, who can’t make it without me either. ‘We’re going to have to get you back inside your shirt so we can remove your cufflinks like a person with, say, half a brain might. You ready?’
Best behaviour only lasts so long.
‘This reminds me of my prom,’ he says, and that’s all I need to know about the boss. This must be how Maria feels when she tells me I’m oversharing.
I drag the shirt back up Damian’s arms, push it over his head and down his back. ‘There. Now, are you okay to do the rest?’
He undoes his cufflinks with a flick and takes off his shirt. ‘Anyhow, what do you think?’ He turns this way, that way.
‘Is this a sponsorship?’ I ask the tall, stout man wearing a too-tight pink unmarryme T-shirt with the Poverty Project logo, yellow and green, on the sleeve.
‘We would love to sponsor unmarryme. It’s unique, it has flair, and we want to be a part of it. Forgive me if I gave you the wrong impression. Meaningful sentences and I part company when galas fall through.’
‘Put that on your tombstone,’ I say. ‘I’m sorry, Damian. I knew what I was saying was rubbish as it was coming out of my mouth. I always thought of you as my double-agent, opening the level thirteen purse from the inside.’
Everybody looks great in an unmarryme T-shirt.
‘Double-agent, I like that. After you left, I went to the corner offices and asked them how long they wanted to be behind the eight ball. I gave them a list of companies that endorse marriage equality and asked if they really wanted Poverty Project to be missing from it.’
I look across to Cassandra’s empty office. ‘It’s a pity she’s not here to see this.’
He shakes his head. Negative body language is all he’s going to say about Cassandra. ‘If you want that office, it’s yours. Go on, it’d be fun,’ Damian says.
‘Why do I feel like I’m being promoted?’ I like my job and my team, we’re at the coalface on level twelve, and I don’t want a promotion. Maybe that’s not it. ‘Or do you want to keep a closer eye on me? No, thanks, if it’s all the same. I want to stay downstairs where the cool kids hang out. Did you tell them how many hits the flash mob got?’
‘Of course. I asked Todd for the specifics and told him to keep it quiet because I wanted all my ducks in a row before I said anything to you.’
My face aches from smiling. ‘People shared the shit out of the flash mob. Sorry. I’m excited. I swear when I’m excited.’
‘And when you’re terrified, and angry, and bored, and hungry, and happy…’
‘Okay, okay. Can you imagine a flash mob at Parliament House? Or on the steps of the Opera House?’ I want to do a Celeste and skip. There’s space in here: Damian’s office is twice as big as mine, plenty of skipping room.
His eyes are glowing behind his brand-new bright red frames. ‘And events at Flinders Street Station and Southern Cross Station, simultaneously, at peak hour, handing out muffins or croissants, some sort of treat. I can see an army of pink shirts pouring up the escalators.’
I love a man with big ideas and a biggish wallet.
‘Damian, a sponsorship goes two ways. What does Poverty Project expect from unmarryme other than good vibes and cheap publicity?’ I take out my notebook. I’m excited but unmarryme isn’t mine anymore, it belongs to the unmarrying couples, and I have to look after it for them. ‘Let’s write some of this down,’ I say, my hands shaking.
‘Ruby, for once in my life I’m ahead of you. I’ve got a preliminary contract. If you have any questions, make a note of them and we’ll see where we are in a few days.’
The new attitude is working. I was right not to try to force something. I didn’t think a sponsorship was on the cards and I would have spent a long time chewing my lip over the wrong thing.
‘I’m on TV again tomorrow. We’re all going. I think it might go better than last time. Even Mark’s coming.’
‘I’ll come, too,’ Damian says. ‘I’ll wear my T-shirt.’ Putting his body where his wallet is. Sponsorship is good.
I’m looking forward to it now. The studio, the make-up, the lights, bright, hot, in your face. Kelly and his clipboard, Mandy and her attraction to unmarryme. Tommo, I’ll think of something for Tommo.
At two-thirty on the dot my phone rings. Mars answers it, putting it on speaker. Elizabeth gets right into it, doesn’t even say hello.
‘How does the ninth of July sound?’
‘The original date? That’s great, but, Elizabeth, how is she?’
Mars kicks me under the table. Sometimes we take calls and she sits quietly, taking notes. I have told her if she needs to get my attention I’d prefer a paperclip to the face, less bruising than the kicks.
‘Maya’s going to be fine, Ruby. Thank you for asking. You’re the first person who has. Surely I’m not that intimidating?’ I love how Americans say ‘surely’ like Shirley.
‘Of course you’re not.’ Yes, she is and I don’t want to ask Elizabeth what happened, in case I offend her. People tell me I’m occasionally offensive. ‘Can I ask what happened?’
A paperclip pings my nose. My head flies back in surprise and now my neck hurts. Perhaps a bruised shin is better. Mars’s lips are jammed together in a thin line.
‘Can you believe it? A mix-up at the hospital. Somebody probably got told they’re fine, no malignancy, when Maya was told she had months to live. And now the news has been reversed. This is all under your hat, right, Ruby?’
‘Where it will stay.’
‘If it were me,’ Elizabeth continues, ‘I’d sue that hospital into oblivion, or at least try to, but Maya has more grace. Instead, she made enquiries, discreetly, and has offered assistance if the family would like it.’
‘Incredible, I’d set fire to the place,’ I say, and put up a hand to stop the next paperclip.
‘Me too.’ Elizabeth laughs. ‘Still, a health scare is something you can get some inspiration out of and I’m sure Maya’s awake all night thinking, where to next? Australia, of course, but where after that? Did you see her Ted talk, “How to Save the World Without Really Trying”? Over two million views.’
‘I did,’ I say. ‘I watched it over and over; my team watched it as well. But I have to ask, imagine what would happen if Maya did try?’
‘All I can say on that question, Ruby, is watch this space. We’ll see you in a few weeks and thank you for your care and understanding. It hasn’t gone unnoticed,’ Elizabeth says.
‘See you then,’ I say, and with that she’s gone and Mars and I are back to dial tone. We sit speechless. I can’t believe it. The gala is back on, same date and all. I don’t want to say anything in case something breaks, and Mars looks like she feels the same way.
Instead of talking, I cry, because that’s what the mother of a gala does when her gala comes back to her.
‘Mars, do you have a hankie?’ What a roller coaster the last few days have been. Gutted on a Tuesday, triumphant six days later.
‘Get your own hankie, Wheeler,’ Mars says. ‘I need it.’ So she does.
All of unmarryme was invited to come to the studio but it’s only me on the set. Me, the stupidly big L-shaped couch, and Mandy and Tommo. Where do you get a couch that big? Dubai?
‘It’s okay, Rube, we’re here.’
That is the first time Todd has called me ‘Rube’. I must look like I need a little something extra. I look unusual, that’s for sure. I’ve been made up, more like crop-dusted, with industrial strength foundation stuff, and my face feels hard. I wish my gut f
‘We’ll be in the front row. You’ll see all the pink. And, if over half of the population wants marriage equality, there will be sympathetic people in the audience.’
Without much of a maths brain, I can see it follows that there will be people in the audience who are not sympathetic.
‘Do we know the angle, Todd? It’s because we have unmarryme rookies, right? I don’t have to go over it all again, do I?’
‘Yes, it’s because people are joining us. That’s what I was told. And yes, you’ll probably have to go over it again.’
For fuck’s sake. I say it in my head. Practice for not swearing on TV. ‘Here comes Kelly,’ I say.
Kelly is one of those happy types. If I could wear jeans to work, if I could still fit into my jeans, I’d grin my face off, too. ‘Hi Todd, good to see you,’ he says. ‘You ready, Ruby?’
It is not lost on me that Kelly says hello to Todd first. He didn’t say hello to me at all, strictly speaking. Probably too busy trying to look like he doesn’t care that Todd seems to be available.
I’m introduced to the small studio audience. There’s clapping, howling and a wolf-whistle. The whistle was Mark, I’d know it anywhere. The carry-on settles me down and revs me up at the same time. I take a deep breath, roll my shoulders, sit up straight. All good on the couch. I’m here to talk unmarryme, make friends, be polite and not sink to any unplumbed levels.
When it’s time, Mandy and Tommo reach across from their couch and shake hands with me. ‘Lovely to have you back, Ruby.’
‘Thanks, Mandy, it’s good to be back. I see you’re wearing an unmarryme badge. That’s terrific.’
‘You’ve got that finger on safe?’ Tommo says.
I laugh, everybody laughs. Everything feels warm and friendly and I get more comfortable on the couch. ‘I sure have, Tommo. I didn’t even bring it, look.’ I hold up my right hand with my pointer finger bent. ‘See?’ More laughing, yes, this will be okay. Charming, dynamic, funny, that’s me.
‘And you have friends in the audience today. Marco, take a shot of the crowd. Have a look at all those pink T-shirts.’
There’s a monitor in front of me and the view is brilliant. They pan the crowd, not only is unmarryme here but I catch sight of other faces. Peta and BJ with Celeste on Peta’s lap, Maria and Seamus, Damian and The Ps. For a second I think I see Charlene Hunter but I look again and, no, it’s a different woman with big blonde hair.
‘Ruby, tell us where unmarryme is now. You have other married couples joining you, that must be exciting.’
‘It is, Mandy, it’s terrific. Though when I first heard other couples were coming onboard, I was in two minds. It’s been hard to be separated from my husband, way harder than I thought it’d be, and I don’t want other people in pain.’
‘Sounds tough,’ Mandy says, and makes sad eyes for the camera.
‘But as my gorgeous campaign manager, Todd, said, when he told me his parents were onboard, our recruits are adults and they know what they’re doing.’
‘A round of applause for your unmarryme rookies.’
More clapping. Howling. Waving.
Tommo hasn’t said anything and I wish he would. At least he’s clapping. Then he speaks: ‘I think you’re all making a mockery of marriage.’
‘Not letting people who love each other get married makes a mockery of marriage,’ I say.
‘Tommo, I’m glad you asked. You like Mars Bars, right?
‘I love ’em.’
I take a Mars Bar out of my bag and drop it onto the coffee table. ‘People send you Mars Bars. A couple of years ago somebody dumped a load of cold Mars Bars in your driveway. Remember that?’
His face goes dreamy. ‘Best day of my life.’ He leans across to pick up the Mars Bar and I slap his hand. Mandy jumps. The audience laughs.
‘You can’t have it.’
‘No good reason.’
‘I have Mars Bars on the brain now.’ He gets a laugh. ‘But I know what you did there. Marriage isn’t a chocolate bar, is it?’
‘You’re right, Tommo. Mars Bars are a simplification but that’s how marriage inequality looks like to me. Unfair and ridiculous.’
Mandy claps. ‘Well said, Ruby.’
Loud clapping. The pink T-shirts pump their fists.
‘Why don’t we throw to the audience,’ Tommo says. ‘They must have some questions.’
Mandy doesn’t look prepared for this. ‘Uh, okay.’
‘So, who has a question for Ruby?’
A hand shoots up. A kid in a Rolling Stones T-shirt. ‘Did you hurt yourself when you landed in the bushes?’
I wait for the laughing to stop. ‘Not really, but I did get chewing gum stuck to my leg. Not sure of the flavour.’
‘Does anyone else have a question?’ Tommo looks into the crowd. ‘One related to the issue? The blonde lady at the back?’
Charlene Hunter. ‘Hello, Ruby.’ She smiles big and broad.
‘Hi Charlene, I’m glad you could make it,’ I say. ‘What have you been doing the last few months?’
‘Oh, this and that. Trawling through skeletons in closets. My question is for Mark, your husband who used to be married to your sister. Is he here today?’ She knows he’s here. ‘Can you stand up please, Mark?’
What a spunk he is in his dark suit and pink shirt.
‘Mark, would you like to join Ruby on the set?’
That’s an order.
Mark picks his way down the row of chairs and walks across the floor. Boy, he’s handsome. I love being near him, but right now, for some strange reason, when he sits next to me on the couch I’m uncomfortable.
Kelly flicks through the pages on his clipboard. Tommo’s smiling, like he’s just finished with Little Red Riding Hood, and we’re next. Mandy’s looking for answers. ‘What’s happening?’ she mouths.
If Mandy doesn’t know what’s going on then I don’t want to. I might look like I’m patient, waiting, open to anything, but I’m scanning the place for exits and wishing I’d worn more practical shoes.
Charlene isn’t worried at all. She looks like she’s about to close in with an overlarge tissue box. ‘Mark, what do you do for a living?’
‘I’m a government lawyer.’
‘Oh, so you’re often in Canberra.’
‘Increasingly. Is there somewhere you’re heading with this line of questioning, Ms Hunter?’
I love it when he talks lawyer.
‘Does Ruby know your part in the High Court decision?’
Mark’s face goes white.
My hands sweat.
I’m aware of the silence. Nobody is breathing.
On one of the monitors is a crowd shot and I see Peta and BJ turn to each other, eyes wide, jaws dropped open. For a drawn-out moment Peta’s horrified face fills the screen.
‘What is she talking about, Mark?’ The lights are too bright, I’m hot. My clothes feel tight, like in the seven seconds since she asked the question, they’ve shrunk two sizes.
‘We’ll talk about it later,’ he says, as if we’re alone.
‘Answer the question, Mark.’ Charlene says. ‘So we can all find out what a gigantic hypocrisy unmarryme is.’
I feel like we’re alone, because nothing else matters. ‘What is she talking about, Mark?’
‘Tell your wife what you did!’ Everybody stares at Charlene.
‘Can we have Ms Hunter removed, please?’ Kelly is onto it. Security is up and away.
‘Get your hands off! Take your hand off me!’
She is marched along the row, people booing at her, ‘Get out, Charlene! Boo, boo!’ I’ve never seen proper booing in the flesh, only on TV shows, and it’s quite a thing—more polite than fuck off, and less wet than spitting. ‘Boo, boo!’
There are two security guards on each sid
My mouth is dry. I wet my lips. ‘What is she talking about, Mark?’
‘Rube, I worked on the brief.’
‘You knew it was going to happen?’
‘No, Rube, I helped present the case for the government. But the decision was the High Court’s.’
I stand up. He sits. Silence. All I can hear is the hum of electricity. I think I’m going to vomit.
I pick up the vase of flowers from the coffee table. It’s heavy and I nearly drop it. I dump it over his head. Water, flowers, crap, everywhere. I run for the exit. I trip over a cable and down I go, flat on my belly, like the dive into the bushes, but the landing is hard this time. The crowd says, ‘Oh.’ Kelly is quick with a hand to help me up.
‘Don’t touch me!’
I get up and go.
I’ve left everything behind, phone, keys, wallet. I pelt down the street. People look at me. At first I think it’s because they were watching and know about Mark, then I see myself in a car’s tinted window. It’s the make-up. I might have looked alive on TV, but on the street my face is melted plastic and, of course, my eye make-up has run. I look like a broken-hearted zombie.
I could get a taxi and pay the driver when I get home. I don’t have my keys but the Ps could let me in; they have a spare. Wait. The Ps aren’t home, either. They’re here somewhere, not far away, having just witnessed Mark’s betrayal on national television.
Unmarryme has had it now. We can’t hang around, Mark and I, we’ll damage the cause.
‘Hey, Ruby!’ Charlene Hunter in a car alongside me.
I keep walking.
‘Wait,’ she says.
‘Charlene, you’ve done enough.’
Charlene makes Cassandra look ridiculous, a real lightweight. Charlene would never bring a dead rat to a knife fight. She cruises close to the kerb. ‘How does it feel, Ruby? Like how I feel? Like everything you’ve worked for has been taken away from you?’